The open mouth insert foot syndrome

02nd October 2013
Come on we have all done it. I am the worlds worst at doing this. I don't seem to have an off switch, there simply is no filtering system within me I just blurt out what I feel passionate about and wham it is too late to take it back. Yes even now older and supposedly wiser!

I was a lot worse in my teenage years. I can recall a specific one almost as if it were yesterday. I had, thanks to a neighbour and customer of my Fathers secured a working placement at Wrest Park during the summer to have work experience in a photographic darkroom for my last year at school.

It was great and the professional printing team were really helpful and very keen to encourage a zealous passionate kid learn the right way to do things. HOWEVER when you're 15 you do tend to have a very blinkered view of things, and what you think will be the best route to follow as a career path. With this in mind I had stated rather stupidly that I wanted to go into colour printing, in the London darkrooms as any idiot could print black and white images. I had been doing so since I was 11 after school in my chemistry teachers class. I had a knack for it and a keen eye and he was brilliant at critiquing my work, no false compliments etc. So obviously I knew what needed to be done! Or so I thought!

For my sin of such a STUPID remark I spent the next 2 days of my working week reprinting an image of pigs in a sty (deservedly as well). Burning in, holding back, dodging sections,warm bath then cold tap treatments to get the image exactly how the boss wanted it. I even had to reshoot and push process in the negative stage on some other work. Seeing all the intricate nuances appearing as each print was laid out as I progressed to the finish on the conference table. Later on in the week having finally got this right, I was allowed to colour print. This was done in a drum mixing each chemical bath for each colour individually. It would be years later before I touched a large industrial processing colour print machine and that would prove to be a whole new learning curve.

The point was well and truly made that black and white is not easy, over the years I have learnt that no print should be regarded as easy. Whether black and white or colour, slides or duratrans, each time you print a job be it by hand or machine, E6 or C-Type every time it is different. I can process an image one way one year and come back to it at another time and do it totally differently. These days Litho printing on press, when using ink on paper things can alter the colour drastically even down to whether the door to the factory is open or shut creating a temperature drop. Print is technical, stressful and prone to disputes on colour accuracy and artistic impressions! After all, we all have an individual mind an idea of how art should look.

Even now in this day and age when everything is digital and manipulated with filters and Photoshop so it can be unrecognisable from the shot that was taken it is very individual as to what is right or wrong. I am not a lover of HDR or over saturation of an image Photoshop wise. I choose to go out and photograph in the natural light when it is highly saturated at dawn, sunrise, dusk, sunset, after a storm you will find me out with my camera and tripod in my 3D light as I called it. I often thought I was the only one who described light as flat or 3D, then I met Danny Beath and we enthused together over the natural light and luminosity of it on landscapes. How Shropshire seemed to have an abundance of highly saturated colour probably due to the rain and lack of pollution. I shall miss our chats very much sadly we lost a great man in January 2013.

I miss black and white printing very much. I miss having my own darkroom or being in a professional darkroom painting with light under an enlarger, or even as in the case of 6ftx4ft Cibachromes. The largest I used to print, hanging the paper on the wall (hoping you had it emulsion side out) and bouncing around with a broom to dodge and burn hi-lights and shadows. My enlarger then was called a Little John and it was nearly as big as the room I sit in now. Happy days! A skilled artform that is losing quality and sadly dying out as health and safety plus new technology take over.

This image is produced using a set of filters that allow in Photoshop the creation of black and white as it used to be produced in the darkroom. You can select the paper it was printed on. The film type can be emulated and you can add sepia effects without the stench of rotten eggs. My personal fav was indigo paper it had a really royal blue metallic sheen to it and I loved the saturation of it. I think if memory serves it was an Ilford paper but it has been a while and memory fails. Back in the days I was in print you had grain in both the film (via ASA/ISO)and the paper type. You could alter a print by temperature, Stop baths, reticulation and even fogging it deliberately as Man Ray perfected calling it solarising an image.

It was fun, so much more fun than sitting in front of a screen straining your eyes. Time moves on and things change but I ask all of you old school photographic printers and artists out there. Is it better quality wise? Maybe with a 30k body and expensive lenses etc. But who can afford them? Does a Giclee truly match a photographic emulsion? I have seen exhibitions recently using Ilford Galerie Prestige Gold fibre Silk Paper that have astounded me quality wise in large format as well. It seems they even have a metallic inkjet printing paper now. However I think if I could afford it I would go back to the magic of film and the darkroom it was more exciting more demanding an adventure each time you turned out the light.

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